Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

The right number of syllables

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I remember one of [Groucho Marx’s] lines on my morning show that was widely quoted, and stolen by unknown comedians and by one or two well-known ones. We had discussed the musical Hair for a moment. It had just opened, and because it contained Broadway’s first frontal nude scene with both sexes there was a lot of talk about it. I asked Groucho if he had seen it, and I knew he did not have a prepared answer. I saw the machinery whir for a split second, and he said, “No. I was going to see it, but I went home, took off my clothes, looked at myself in the mirror, and saved seven dollars.” The audience roared, and the line sped round the country and into several nightclub acts. Sitting that close, I could see that the suddenness of the line and the laugh surprised him for a tenth of a second. Then he calmly put his cigar in his mouth and waited out the laugh. The figure he chose for the price of an orchestra seat was of course not the correct figure, but it had the right number of syllables for the joke.

Dick Cavett, Cavett

Written by nevalalee

May 13, 2017 at 7:30 am

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